Local Elections Begin in England as Conservatives Brace for Heavy Losses

Crucial local elections in England and Wales seen as a test for UK PM Rishi Sunak and the ruling Conservatives, who face significant losses and pressure on Sunak's leadership.

Nimrah Khatoon
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Conservatives Brace for Heavy Losses in England Local Elections

Conservatives Brace for Heavy Losses in England Local Elections

Millions of voters in England and Wales are casting their ballots on Thursday in local elections that are widely seen as the last major test before the UK general election expected later this year. The ruling Conservative Party is preparing for significant losses, with forecasts suggesting they could lose up to half of the 1,000 council seats they are defending.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is hoping to point to successes in key mayoral races to douse talk of the Conservatives changing leaders before the general election. However, polling indicates the party could lose around 500 seats, which would be their worst result in local elections. A poor performance is likely to increase pressure on Sunak's leadership.

The most closely watched contests will be the mayoral elections in the West Midlands and Tees Valley, where the Conservatives are defending incumbent mayors. Defeats in these races would be catastrophic for Sunak. The Conservatives are also facing a challenge from the right-wing Reform UK party, which is expected to siphon off some of their support.

Why this matters: The local elections are seen as a crucial test of public opinion ahead of the expected general election later this year. The results could potentially shape Sunak's future as prime minister and provide insight into the Conservative Party's prospects of retaining power after 14 years in government.

Labour leader Keir Starmer is hopeful that the local elections will confirm the party is on course to form the next government. Labour has a significant lead in national polls and is expected to make gains in key battleground areas. Starmer has urged voters to "send a message to this government that they've had enough of the chaos, of the failure, of the cost of living crisis."

The Liberal Democrats are also hoping to make progress at the expense of the Conservatives, particularly in traditional Tory strongholds in the southwest of England. Lib Dem leader Ed Davey has said the results will be a "damning verdict" on the government's record.

As the results come in, Conservative rebels have warned they would move against Sunak if the party suffers significant losses. However, Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch has insisted that Sunak's position is not under threat, regardless of the outcome. The fate of the Conservative mayors in the West Midlands and Tees Valley will be a visible test of the party's support, but experts caution that the personal appeal of the candidates means these races may not be a reliable indicator of the Conservatives' performance in a general election.

Key Takeaways

  • Local elections in England and Wales seen as test before UK general election.
  • Conservatives expected to lose up to 500 council seats, their worst local result.
  • Mayoral races in West Midlands and Tees Valley crucial for PM Sunak's leadership.
  • Labour and Lib Dems hope to make gains, with Lib Dems targeting Tory strongholds.
  • Significant Conservative losses could increase pressure on Sunak's leadership.